Doctor Who Comes to America; Highlights of the WonderCon Panel


TRUST YOUR DOCTOR.  Doctor Who, the longest-running TV sci-fi series, is coming to America tonight!  And I’m not just referring to the premiere episode that will be airing at 9pm on BBC.  The team is actually coming to America… as in Utah.

The spectacular two-part season premiere kicks off tonight with Part one, “The Impossible Astronaut.”  The mysterious time traveler, the Doctor [Matt Smith], and his companions Amy [Karen Gillan] and Rory [Arthur Darvill], find themselves on a secret summons that takes them on an adventure from the desert in Utah – right to the Oval Office in 1969. The two-parter is penned by lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat (Sherlock, Jekyll).  It will also feature guest star Mark Sheppard (Supernatural, Leverage, Battlestar Galactica) and Alex Kingston (ER, Flash Forward) returns as the irrepressible River Song and the new season features an episode written by Neil Gaiman.

Earlier this month, fans were gathered bright and early outside of the Moscone Center in San Francisco in order to ensure their entrance, and were eagerly awaiting the presentation of the Doctor Who panel at WonderCon.  I was fortunate enough to be able to attend and bring you these highlights.

Last year, Doctor Who delivered record ratings for BBC America and was the #3 top selling TV series on the iTunes Store in the U.S.  Doctor Who is recognized by Guinness World Records as “the most successful sci-fi series on television” and “TV’s longest running sci-fi show.”  For the latest news follow @bbcamerica and visit

When the introductions took place at WonderCon, the auditorium packed to capacity erupted with ear-shattering cheers.  The panel was lead by Chris Hardwick (from Nerdist) a self-proclaimed huge ‘nerd’ of The Doctor who claims to have subconsciously forced his mother to birth him on November 23, the day of the first-ever episode of Doctor Who.  Attendees fortunate enough to gain a seat were also gifted with a commemorative tee-shirt.  The introduction included a 60-second teaser clip shown on the large screen before the guests were brought out, as well as a two-minute highlights reel.  All the trailers, highlights, interviews, and many more videos are available on BBC’s YouTube channel:

The guest panel consisted of:

  • Writer Neil Gaiman (Coraline, The Sandman)
  • Director Toby Haynes (Doctor Who, Being Human)
  • Actor Mark Sheppard (Supernatural, Leverage, Battlestar Galactica)

Discussion highlights:

  • Toby directed the first two episodes of the new season, as well as the Christmas special.  He has also directed on MI-5 and Being Human.
  • He is a huge fan of Doctor Who and states that the series influenced his interest in TV and filmmaking.
  • When asked to outline the first two episodes in detail, he joked, “The Doctor is played by Matt Smith. Thank you for coming!”
  • Mark Sheppard received a resounding applause upon introduction.
  • When asked how he got involved, Mark responded, “They asked me. And just like Toby, I jumped 35 feet in the air and said ‘absolutely!’  It’s the deal of a lifetime.”
  • He went on to say that he nearly didn’t get the part because he was shooting Supernatural at the time (huge cheer from the audience at the mention).  They were able to change the schedule a bit to allow him to finish with Supernatural and not miss out on Doctor Who.
  • Mark was presented with the question “Is there anything at all you can tell us about the character?” After much hesitation, he responded, “He’s American.”  (in a bit of trivia, his real-life father, also an actor, plays the older version of Mark’s character)
  • Neil Gaiman wasn’t involved in the first two episodes, but he did write the fourth episode titled “The Doctor’s Wife”.  He danced around the issue of giving any details about it.
  • Neil mentioned that due to budget constraints there was an episode he wanted to do last season but was not able to.  This was something that he was able to do this season.  He is especially looking forward to having Rory back.
  • He recounted a story item where Amy is having a disagreement with Rory.  In the process of talking about The Doctor, Rory states “well, he’s a time lord”.  And even though Amy looks at him with infinite compassion, she says, “Rory, that’s just what they call him.  It doesn’t mean he actually knows what he’s doing.”
  • He has also been a long-time fan of the show, dating back to the 1960s when William Hartnell had the role of The Doctor.  He goes on to state, “Before I ever discovered the Egyptians or the Greek or the Norse or the Aztec mythology, I knew what the initials of the TARDIS stood for.”
  • With over 45 years worth of episodes, the current creative team has quite a challenge working within that to be creatively fresh.
  • But even though the show has been going since 1963, it’s not that difficult for people who have never seen the show to understand it.  And even now, there are still new viewers, young and old, discovering it for the first time.
  • Neil also stated that there may be people who feel intimidated thinking that there’s 47 years worth of stuff that they need to know.  He sums it up by saying: It’s about a big blue box that is bigger on the inside than the outside.  It can go anywhere in time and space, and there is a guy called the Doctor who pilots it. See, it’s easy.  It’s awesome.  Now sit down, shut up and watch!
  • A brief highlight reel was shown of Mark Sheppard’s work.  Mark also shared his love for Doctor Who. He was passionate about saying that the stories are great, it’s a work of love and passion, and even a work of art.
  • Neil commented that the easiest thing about working on Doctor Who is that they never try to rein him in.  He may present Steve Moffatt with a crazy idea and Steve just gives him the go-ahead.
  • Neil also stated that the hardest thing about working on the show was the actual writing of an episode.  He made an analogy by saying that for a reader there is not much difference between a 300-page novel or a 314-page novel.  In writing an episode, he had to come to terms with certain restrictive realities.  There was a time where he had written a glorious scene where the episode actually started in a manner that it appeared you were in the middle of another episode.  The scene was completed, even having costumes made for it.  When they got to the first day of shooting, they realized they were going to run into extra days of shooting unless they lost that scene and replaced it with a simpler scene in the Tardis.  Going through that experience was really frustrating and heart-breaking, even though in the long run the scene didn’t take up much screen time.
  • Toby recounted how having excellent actors to work with makes his directing job much easier, and that it is the technical aspects that provide a great challenge at times.
  • Mark commented that there is collaboration between the writer, the director and the actor.  The easiest part is that the people working on the set all want to make something fantastic and they have a love and passion for what they are doing.  The hardest thing is that not everything they want can be included; not every scene that was shot ends up on screen.  He added that coming from a background of live theater, the most fantastic thing was the connection between actor and audience and that instant feedback that was available.  But in television, a product is created where they don’t quite know what the response is… until they get to come to a place like this (referring to WonderCon).
  • Mark hoped to see a return of his character, the demon Crowley, on Supernatural if the series is granted a seventh season, as well as a return appearance of his character Sterling to Leverage.  As far as confirming any appearances, he was adamant about NOT revealing where he would be appearing next because he wants to keep the surprises going for the viewers and hoped that fans could bear with him on this.

As the panel concluded, Neil spilled that he will be making an appearance – sort of – in November by showing a storyboard slide of that appearance.  I’m sure you can all recognize that it will be The Simpsons!


There is a promo & contest with great prizes available at Please visit the site to participate. 

The best way to conclude this report is to share what Mark Sheppard had to say about being at WonderCon and about the fans.  He was enthusiastic in expressing what a joy it was to be present at the panel and to share with the fans their love of the show and to see the fans’ love for the show.  “It completes the circle from concept, to realization, to performance, to ultimately enjoyment.”

And with that, I hope everyone enjoys tonight’s premiere of Doctor Who!!